Nature in Karen Blixen's Ehrengard

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The novel Ehrengard is Karen Blixen’s work that relates to the natural occurrences within the community that is said to have been an answer to the Seducer’s Diary (Bunch 489).  The short story indicates the life of an artist, Herr Cazotte, who tries to seduce the maid of honor to a princess, Ehrengard, through his artistic work and seductions. The story portrays that the artist is not only concerned about the usual moves of men in drawing women closer to themselves but something that is way out of the natural. He does not seem to be satisfied by freshly triumphs shown by the maid towards him or his work as he has set a goal to obtain a special kind of blush that will make her give her all. Cazotte makes it his goal to produce works of art that will transcend through time, remain immortal and infinite. He uses this mindset and perception to immortalize his relationship with his woman Ehrengard in a magnificent piece of art(Bunch 495). The story presents several letters that were written to the author’s great-grandmother as the only confidant of Cazotte describing both his fears and desires. In one of the letters, he describes the change in the state of Rosenbad through repair and upgrading to Venus, the residence of the goddess of love. In another, he describes how beautiful Ehrengard was and his plans to use artistic seductions to get her though she had already been engaged to Kurt.

On the other hand, the story of the Nightingale by Anderson presents a natural bird that enchants all people with songs. Natives as well as travellers who come to visit the city never fail to recognize its allure through the beautiful songs. Stories of the singing Nightingale travel far and wide, she is recapped in books and also in poems. When the Emperor catches the description of this creature along with the perfect picture of his city, he sends for Nightingale to be brought to the palace to sing to the Emperor and his servants. The bird receives great treatment with its own cage and servants to ensure its wellness after it moves the Emperor to tears.  However, soon afterward, the king receives a mechanical bird made of rubies and diamonds that could sing continuously without tiring. As such, it replaced the natural Nightingale, which no longer seemed pleasing to anyone. It was forgotten even with the mechanical bird getting damaged and having to be made to sing lesser time, once a year. After a long time, as the Emperor is gravely ill and is left to die by his servants, Nightingale returns and saves the Emperor from the Death which she also charms with song and agrees to let the Emperor love a little longer. The king is impressed and wants the natural bird to stay with him but Nightingale requests to be kept secret and allowed to live freely and in turn she promises to continue to singing. When the Emperor returns strong and alive, his servants are astonished environment (“Analysis of Christian Andersen’s Work on the Allegorical Nature” 2)

The story of Nightingale is full of allegorical presentation. The bird represents the good things in nature, the Emperor represents power and his china men represent the ordinary people. To begin, the writer denotes the Emperor as a sophisticated individual who notices things that only appeal to the eye while the commoners appreciate the good music from Nightingale without minding its appearance. When brought to the palace, the good music comes across as attractive but the physical appearance becomes an issue. When a beautiful artificial bird is brought in, everyone forgets  Nightingale’s good music and they focus on the jewels the gold ,silver and ruby of the artificial bird. They endorse her even with her music not being as good as Nightingale’s. Being that the story is set at the time of the industrial revolution, Nightingale also represents humans and the natural world while the artificial bird repreprents the innovations and power of machines. The efficiency of the machines just like the artificial bird is seen in the while it is still new and it is embraced by everyone however when it functions for a long while it develops faults and stops working eventually. The last resort for the emperor is to return to the undamaged bird (“Analysis of Christian Andersen’s Work on the Allegorical Nature” 3).

Similarly, the role of nature is exhibited in the transition of preference between the birds. Andersen puts across that machines represented by artificial bird will become faulty causing a lot of suffering to those who had become so dependent on them. In his story, the Chinese Emperor becomes sick without the music while the commoners, just continued with life as though nothing had happened. This portrays the role of nature in creating dependency on machines especially for people in the high socioeconomic class while the commoners who are used to hand labor will only apply the machines when they are available but revert back to the normal functioning if the situation warrants for it. The damage to the artificial bird is also representative of the intentional destruction of machines by human for the role in production to prevail (“Analysis of Christian Andersen’s Work on the Allegorical Nature” 4)

Use of Allegories

Ehrengard which was earlier published as the secret of Rosenbad is where the author intends to portray interest in the way that the seduction is managed in the book.  The artist, in this case, is shown to want to possess not only the girl’s body but her imagination also. In so doing, true enjoyment is derived but with the need for spiritual influence.  Indeed the author sees in the eyes of the seducer to bring about the girl’s fulfillment. In this regard, the seduction is a symbolic representation of the artist’s desires on connection to the aesthetic life. It is for this reason that Karen Blixen offers to give a different setting to the seduction.

Coincidentally she introduces the erotic principle in which she makes the joins the character of the seducer  and a painter. The setting of  the story of Ehrengard takes place in storybook world that represents the German principalities. While Ehrengard gives permission to Carzotte to paint her, he presumes of the painters seemingly innocence. Seduction is a major theme in the story with the author demonstrating several instances.  To begin with, the author sends the implication to the reader implying that Carzottes seduction will ultimately happen. On the contrary, Carzotte’s becomes seduced contrary to his plans. Ehrngard on the other hands is seduced by the idea of her desire to have a baby. Another instance, is that Lisbeth the nurse allows her husband to seduce her into saying things that she did not intend to. Although the story is claimed to have been written for comic purposes, the reader is led to believe in the passivity of Ehrengard and her ultimate conquest by Carzotte. Surprisingly the expectations of the reader are wrong as the events of the story take another turn.

Role of Nature

Nature is also depicted as the source/inspiration of events that are portrayed in Cazotte’s artwork. He projects his feelings for Ehrngard in the real world to develop a painting that he makes, which gives him the fulfillment that he has fully captured the girl and made her his. Cazotte explains that the process of capturing Ehrngard’s body in a piece of canvas is the most significant way that will join her to him and no one in the world would separate them at the instance. Although the painting would remain open and public for all to see, the face of his beloved would remain concealed so that only the two of them would know the secret (Bunch 496).

Cazotte also intends to move his seduction action plan from the physical to the spiritual nature. He describes that he wants his connection with the maid to go beyond physical, past the need for sexual intercourse. He wants the girl to fall for him completely, heart, mind and soul first, so that by the time she surrenders her body to him, he will have spiritual possession over her and that her entire being will only belong to him henceforth. Blixen demonstrates the aesthetic treatment that a man is supposed to accord a woman during the seduction phase (Bunch 497) which is quite an important lesson in the current times where women are devalued and are only viewed as sexual objects most of the time. Blixen also elevates the value and abilities of Ehrngard as a woman. She vividly describes the revenge plan she is planning to execute so as to manipulate and seduce Cazotte into painting her with her full consent. Cazotte had planned to do her nude painting without Ehrngard’s knowledge and  he could only show her the finished piece with her naked body but he face hidden therefore preserving her social dignity. The thought of the secret painting is what he intends to be their secret but the girl beats her to it by moving him from the world of spiritual to physical seduction and actually catches him off guard. Here Blixen portrays a woman as an entity who knows wants she wants out of love and seduction, expresses herself freely and does not want to be taken advantage of (Bunch 515)

Other emotions other than love show the role of nature in what people feel. ’Being pale’ is continuously used to show the impacts of recognizing an impending tragedy. Ehrngard grows pale after successfully seducing Cazotte and inviting him to paint her nude. Her husband Burk also grows pale when she advises him to give up his love for her. The paleness occurs because Ehrngard was supposed to create a secret with her husband but unfortunately she did that with Cazotte, a wrong man. She also feels immense sadness when she leaves her husband and this was unexpected for her as she did not love him (Bunch 514)

Similarities and Differences

The two short stories provide an allegory of nature and how it is at times depicted to still be similar to the unnatural scenes. There is a display of the individuals that seem to be impressed by more than the natural way of how issues of life are presented and tend to find pleasure in what seems to be for a while. There is incredible evidence of role of nature in making people realize the importance of the natural occurrences. In most of the cases presented it is evident that nature is used symbolically to represent hidden meanings, ideas and even representations in real life. The two short stories exemplary use aspects of nature to bring about the meaning to the reader. In both stories, the role of nature in creating inequalities in life is also widely represented. In Ehrngard and Nightingale the princess and the Emperor represent the high social standing while the Ehrngard, the maid of Honor and the commoners represents the lower social classes respectively

Several differences are also present in the two stories, while the Nightingale is a more intricate discussion of the relationship between nature and human beings, Ehrengard on the other hand symbolically uses some instances of nature to bring about hidden meaning to the reader. Nightingale is also set in China while Ehrengard occurs in the Germany. While the former is allegorically used to depict the influence of the industrial revolution and the efficiency of machines, the latter is focused on the basic human emotion of love but adds to it the art of a perfect seduction plan orchestrated independently by the man and the woman. In Nightingale, human emotions are demonstrated in the form of appreciation of good music which makes people happy and also ‘moves them to tears’ (“Analysis of Christian Andersen’s Work on the Allegorical Nature” 4; Bunch 489).

Works Cited

Andersen, Hans Christian, Stephen Mitchell, and Bagram Ibatoulline. The nightingale. Candlewick Press, 2006.

Dinesen, Isak. Anecdotes of Destiny and Ehrengard. Vintage, 2011.

“Analysis of Christian Andersen’s Work on the Allegorical Nature.” 1–6. Print.

Bunch, Mads. “Ehrengard,"Kierkegaard, and the Secret Note.” Scandinavian Studies 85.4 (2018): 489–523. Print.

December 12, 2023


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